Understanding Race: 20 Things Everyone Should Know About Race and Racism
By now we know that race isn’t real, but it still remains our deepest divide. It is time to take a closer look at race, begin redemptive conversations, cultivate deep healing and choose right or compassionate action.
It is important to understand the difference between racial bias and systemic and institutional racism. Racial bias, whether conscious or unconscious, often results in discrimination and prejudice towards people based on their race or ethnicity. Xenophobia and anti-immigration are examples of prejudice, bias and hate, but systemic racism is something different.
Systemic Racism is racism that infects the very structure of our society. Systemic racism persists in our schools, offices, court system, police departments, military and elsewhere. White people occupy most positions of decision-making power so people of color have a difficult time achieving social, economic and political equality. For example, reducing racist police behavior to a few bad cops who need to be removed, rather than seeing it exists in police departments all over the United States, neglects the systemic cause. Even when black athletes, such as former NFL player Colin Kaepernick, peacefully protest, there is a refusal to see police brutality as part of a system and that the system needs to be changed.
Institutionalized Racism is a form of racism expressed in the practice of social and political institutions. It is a pattern of differential access to material resources and power by race, which advantages one sector of the population while disadvantaging another. It’s not only about racist attitudes or prejudice, but the ways in which rights and resources are distributed. Institutionalized racism disrupts marginalized communities access to quality education, healthcare, living wages, a respectable quality of living and other resources. For example, in Michigan, the Flint water, racial and poverty crisis allowed contaminated water into Flint homes. Politicians knowingly poisoned black and brown children in Flint Michigan because “profits reign supreme.”
It’s important to remember and understand the history of the United States of America. America was stolen from Indigenous people, followed by the enslavement of Africans, next Jim Crow laws enforced racial segregation and then mass incarceration. Race, whiteness and white supremacy were invented to justify slavery and other forms of exploitation.
There continues to be a widening racial wealth gap. It’s probably unrealistic to believe that everything could be equally divided. But we can transform our systems in ways that will re-distribute rights and resources amongst all races, more equally. It is possible to create a greater sense of reciprocity in the United States and the world.
Racism is woven into the fabric of our society. So much so that many white people are unaware of the impact of racism. Unfortunately, whiteness and white privilege are often invisible to white people. White people have significant political, economic, and social power. If racial equality is to be achieved, it will require white recognition that racism continues today. White parents play an important role in facilitating racial change. Parents have to stop teaching white children that everyone is the same. White people aren't outside of race, they are at the top of the racial hierarchy.
Racism has yet to be redeemed or transformed, but it can be once we are ready to be honest and take the first step toward redemptive conversations, deep healing, and true confessions.
Here are 20 Things Everyone Should Know About Race and Racism:
1. Be grateful when you are called out for racism, not defensive. It is a gift for you to learn a valuable lesson. It may be uncomfortable but what you do next is what matters.
2. Just say white or European-American, stop saying caucasian. Caucasian is an outdated word, that some white people may use to sound polite and create distance from race discussion. Often the word white creates discomfort for white people who are not used to being defined or described by their race. In addition, most white people in the United States aren’t descended from the Caucasus region.
3. Racial progress requires race consciousness, rather than color blind strategies. Have you confused being “nice” or “good” with the idea of not seeing race or color? Have you ever thought or said, “I’m not racist, I don’t see color.” The mythical color blindness movement encouraged people to not see or care about race. It has actually served as a deflection mechanism to avoid dealing with race issues all over the world. Get out of your comfort zone of color blindness. Learn to sit with your discomfort, allow it, breathe into it. Breathe into whatever you notice. If you do not truly see people of color, then you do not truly see yourself. Remember, we all want to be seen with love and acceptance.
4. If you are human, then you undoubtedly have unconscious, implicit, racial biases. The majority of white Americans have bias because they've grown up in a culture that has been historically racist in many ways. If you deny this truth, it will cause a lot of harm. Most people want to be good, moral people which becomes the biggest obstacle to identifying our biases. You need to work at always being awake and receptive to the possibility that you might be biased. If you have lived most of your life unaware of your white privilege then you probably have discriminated, offended or perpetuated racism in some way.
5. White privilege does not automatically mean you are racist. White privilege exists because of historic, enduring racism. The discrimination of people of color created white privilege. White privilege is an advantage separate from class, education, or effort. Whiteness has become the norm, the center, the dominant race and that is a powerful advantage.
6. Acknowledging white privilege is not enough to end racism. Learn to listen closely to the experiences of people of color. Educate yourself and use your privilege to share the work of people of color. Speak up and educate other white people when you have the opportunity. Begin an anti-racism practice.
7. White privilege does not mean you have never struggled or worked hard to achieve success. White privilege does not always come with affluence. Being privileged does not necessarily mean that you have a perfect life. It does not mean that you come from wealth or that you always obtain everything you want or deserve. White privilege means that you were born with an inherent advantage over every other race of people.
8. Heighten your awareness of spiritual bypassing in your own life and in your spiritual teachers. Spiritual bypassing is the use of spiritual beliefs to avoid dealing with painful feelings and unresolved traumas, including oppression, violence, and cruelty. Spiritual bypassing can be focusing on the concept of “we are one” to avoid dealing with racial inequality or it can be over-emphasizing the positive side to enlightenment, nothing is negative and you don’t want to talk about what needs to be discussed or looked at within your life, so that you can heal what needs to be healed.
9. Avoid cultural appropriation. Cultural appropriation is the adoption of the elements of the originating, marginalized culture by members of the dominant culture. There is an imbalance of power present and often the adoption of these cultural elements is for profit. There is disrespect, disregard, distortion, and even failure to pay homage to the originating, marginalized culture. You may have seen yogis wear bindis, by placing sticky sparkles at the center of their forehead. Words like “tribe” and “gypsy” can be offensive, often misused and printed on t-shirts for profit. These are examples of cultural appropriation. When Black hairstyles like bantu knots, dread locs and corn rows (“boxer braids”) are labeled as “ghetto” or “unprofessional” on a Black person, but seen as trendy and cool on a non-Black person, that is cultural appropriation.
10. Words matter. “That’s so ghetto.” You may think that describing something as ghetto is calling it cheap with no race implications. Wrong. Ghetto refers to the poorest and most segregated parts of cities in the United States. “All Lives Matter.” Absolutely, but “Black Lives Matter” is a movement in the Black community that campaigns against violence and systemic racism towards black people. “No offense,” when apologizing for an offensive remark. Too late, now I am offended and pissed off. Ta-Nehisi Coates gently explains why white people can't sing the "N-word." Choose your words wisely, authentically and compassionately.
11. Racism is subtle, often covert. Microagressions are “brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, or environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative racial slights and insults toward people of color.”-Dr Chester Pierce coined the term in 1970. A few examples: Asking the question, “What are you?” Or saying, “You don’t act like a normal Black person.” “I never see you as a Black girl.” “You’re really pretty for a Black girl.” “Why do you sound white?” Or “You don’t sound Black.” Racism is not only in extremes, the white hoods, the KKK, microaggressions are more prevalent in everyday racism. Microaggressions are racial bias. Racial bias is a belief. Racism is what happens when that belief becomes an action. For example, a police officer shoots an unarmed black person because he “feared his life.”
12. Don’t expect one Black person/friend to speak for all Black people. Black people are not a monolith. We are allowed to disagree. We have diverse experiences.
13. Gentrification has its roots in racism. Gentrification is a housing, economic, and health issue that affects a community’s history and culture and reduces social capital. Gentrification causes the displacement of people of color. “There’s a perception out there — promoted by some — that slums, poor schools, menial jobs, poverty, high crime and incarceration are who black Americans are. But that’s not who we are. It’s what we endure.” - Wayne Hare
14. Stop saying, “Just get over it.” You may be uncomfortable talking about race or want to minimize racism for a variety of reasons. “Whitesplaining” extracted from “masplaining,” is racism being explained by a white person in a condescending, overconfident, inaccurate, or oversimplified manner to a person of color. Whitesplaining is problematic and perpetuates white privilege. Instead, pause, listen to people of color, reflect and rethink your racial biases.
15. Don’t compare the exploitation of animals to racism. It is deeply disturbing, offensive and insensitive to co-opt Black people’s history of brutal oppression. Slavery is still an unhealed open wound that inflicted tremendous pain on black minds and bodies. Black people are still fighting to be recognized as fully human.
16. Don’t expect black people to explain racism to you. Read, reflect, and think deeply. It is not the job of marginalized people to calmly educate white people about race. It is your responsibility to learn about racism.
17. Having a partner of color or mixed race children does not automatically make you anti-racist. Just like a man marrying a woman does not automatically allow him to transcend sexism. Once can employ women, have women friends, marry a woman and yet be sexist. However, the relationship may allow you the opportunity to open your eyes about race relations and so many aspects of your identity, your children and your partner.
18. Reverse racism shouldn’t even be a term, it is not real. Yes, white people can experience prejudice and bigotry. But racism is far more complex. Racism is not about one group not liking another, it operates on an individual level and institutional level. We don’t live in a society where every racial group has equal power, status, and opportunity. In America, white people have not been enslaved, colonized, forced to segregate. White people have not faced housing or job discrimination, police brutality, poverty, gentrification, inadequate schools, or incarceration at the same level as black people.
19. Getting stuck or wallowing in white guilt, centers you and makes racism all about you. Instead, allow white guilt to motivate you to take action, helping you to focus on changing your beliefs, ending racism and committing to an anti-racism practice. Emotional pain and deep reflection needs to lead to action.
20. Ally is a verb. Use your advantage compassionately, be an ally and learn from, listen to, support and act collaboratively with those who are typically silenced, disempowered and oppressed.
Action is necessary to create change. An awakening is needed, then change, and rebuilding. We can steadily change the world we live in through self-reflection, deep healing and right or compassionate action.